Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ongoing saga of Gilberdyke Tip problems continue

Yet another week of complaints and personally witnessing horrendous smell, HGV movements and litter associated with the Gilberdyke Landfill Site – and as more information comes to light, an increasing frustration with the Environment Agency.

The whole sorry saga of the Gilberdyke tip has been unbelievable and I cannot comprehend how that over the past 18 months a tip operator could come in, and through its selfish actions cause so much misery and suffering for local residents, with smell, vehicle movements and mess. AND all this right under the noses of the Environment Agency and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, both of which have been reluctant to act.

The Environment Agency in particular, who have responsibility for day to day monitoring of the Tip, waste volumes, and smell need to answer an awful lot of questions as to how and why they have allowed this diabolical situation to develop.

My personal feelings are that once the volume of waste on the Tip became greater than that allowed in the height and contours of the planning consent we had a serious problem. To argue about resettlement levels and post settlement levels is quite ridiculous – how would a height condition be imposed in 25 years’ time? If the height was above consented levels would the operator be required to uncap the Tip and removed waste at that point – I think not!

For quite a while now residents have been telling me that their priority was time related and they wanted the Tip closed and capped off as soon as possible, the HGV movements to and from the site to stop, and a suitable gas management system installed to deal with landfill gases. Gilberdyke Tip operators City Plant Ltd. have put up a website, delivered a glossy leaflet to residents, and is planning to hold an exhibition.

But for me this is far too late in the process. If, as I suspect this a cynical attempt at some form of contrition then it will not wash with me, the damage has already been done. It should not be lost on City Plant Ltd that the delivery of the leaflet with its disingenuous statements particularly around numbers of vehicle movements, precipitated further direct action by the residents, when they effectively blocked the access road recently.

I certainly congratulate the residents and particularly Newport Parish Council Chairman Roy Hunt, for it is their direct and indirect actions we have seen over the months that has brought the commitment from City Plant to fill and cap off the site. But it is after far too much and far too late in the process, we should never have seen so much waste entering the site and the Environment Agency has been found seriously wanting as they are the regulatory body responsible for allowing this debacle to develop.

When City Plant Ltd.’s planning application to ‘regularise the height and profile of the site’ is submitted to the ERYC the opportunity must be taken to impose a time condition on the site to ensure no further waste is permitted to enter the site after a given date whether the site is deemed ‘full’ or not by City Plant.

I don’t want to see any more ‘ifs or buts’ from City Plant Ltd, no more excuses and no more applications for time or volume extensions for the Tip. The sooner this sorry saga, where a company with very few actual assets, but with well-heeled directors, has descended upon and subjected a community to sheer misery comes to an end the better.

I urge the residents to continue their actions, early next week Roy Hunt and I are yet again meeting with the Environment Agency senior managers. We will be pushing for action to have the Tip completed, capped off and a suitable gas management system installed much sooner than the timeframe being put forward by City Plant Ltd.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Residents support taking legal action against Gilberdyke Tip

The depressing saga of the Gilberdyke landfill site continues with waste still pouring into the tip – the 100s of HGVs coming through Newport and particularly along the residential Thimble Hall Lane bringing in the waste is intolerable for the local community.

At a recent public meeting there was uninimous support for looking to take legal action regarding the operation of the Tip.

Over the last month the level of the tip has been reduced slightly and the top levelled as a result of enforcement action by the Environment Agency (EA), meaning that the villages of Newport and Gilberdyke are overlooked by their very own Table Mountain, reaching up into the sky to a height over twice the permitted level in the ERYC planning consent – so we have the unbelievable situation where the EA has enforced a height on the tip that is way above the legal limit of the planning consent – in the eyes of many it appears the Agency have acted unlawfully.

This is compounded by the amounts of waste blown out of the trucks littering the highway verges and gardens, to say nothing of the overpowering stench coming from the site.

The residents have had enough and well over a hundred attended a public meeting held in Newport on Saturday (14th April) where it was decided they take things into their own hands by investigating the possibility of using a firm of environmental solicitors with a proven track record to take action on their behalf in view of the lack of effective enforcement action. A recent high court ruling would suggest that there is a good case against those responsible for what the villagers have had to suffer over past year. There is also a possibility that this may be on a “no win, no fee” basis.

It was explained that the primary purpose of the meeting was to establish if residents supported taking legal action to claim compensation for nuisance. Given the limited notice of the meeting and the fact that only residents living in close proximity to the tip were invited, attendance of over a hundred and a dozen or so apologies suggested that there is widespread support, and the decision to pursue things further was totally unanimous.

Newport Parish Council Chairman Roy Hunt said, “The option of legal action is at an early stage, but solicitors have been contacted who are in the process of obtaining information and documentation from a range of sources, including the Environment Agency (EA) and the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC)”.

It was made clear that a decision still had to be made against whom potential litigation could be served, and that the decision would be a complex one. It was also agreed that although the preference would be to proceed on a no-win, no-fee basis, it might be that some costs would need to be incurred by residents who wanted to be included in a class action for damages.

Roy Hunt continued to give the background to two successful legal actions; the first against a company in Hartlepool, where a class action by the residents influenced the closing of the tip. The second was against Biffa where it is now established in law that air pollution is considered a nuisance in the legal definition for which damages can be awarded to residents who are adversely affected.

I explained how important it was that so many people had attended as it sent out a clear message that enough was enough, and that although the enforcement processes surrounding the Tip was complex something had to be done. There was confusion as to whether the planning conditions referred to the pre-settlement heights at the time the tip is completed or the post-settlement levels after 25 years. In my opinion it was ridiculous to expect that after 25 years if the Tip had not settled to the agreed heights then it would be opened up and waste removed to ensure the planning consent was complied with.

I also stated that it was beyond comprehension that the Environment Agency had enforced their own permit condition regarding the tip height, which was over twice the height of the legal height in the Council’s planning consent and questioned whether it was lawful for them to have done this.

I concluded by asking if people agreed with me that the priority was time related and that the Tip be closed and capped off as soon as possible, the HGV movements to and from the site to stop, and a suitable gas management system installed to deal with landfill gases – there was unanimous support for this. The majority did not want to see waste having to be removed from the site in the event of enforcement, although there were a significant minority who indicated they would like to see the company compelled to remove waste to satisfy the height condition in the planning consent.

Residents were asked to give their contact details if they felt that they had suffered from nuisance as a result of the landfill site being in operation and if they felt they would be willing to contribute to a “fighting fund” should one be necessary to pursue an action. It is thought all provided their details and a number were willing to contribute.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Looking at rural transport in Goole & Howdenshire

I have long been a supporter of the Goole GoFar project and its predecessor the FLEDGLING project which was based in Howdenshire. The issue of youth provision was raised by Bubwith, Eastrington and Gilberdyke Parish Councils at the recent Community Partnership meeting, where it was confirmed that all three villages had comparable issues, and shared similar feelings about the constraints due to lack of rural transport, something evident across the whole Goole and Howdenshire area including the towns of Snaith and Howden.

The issue of rural transport has been raised with both Andrew Percy the MP for Brigg and Goole and myself as a Howdenshire ERYC Councillor and Chair of the Goole and Howden Community Partnership.

A conversation around youth activities as well as activities for the elderly in rural communities resulted in Andrew and I meeting with the Goole GoFar Chairman Martin Crossland and Development Officer Christine Dales (pictured above). We discussed some of their ideas and plans for the future, and how by working together and with the ERYC and Parish Councils rural transport projects for both young and old could be developed and expanded. This could include bussing people into Goole to utilise the facilities available at for example the Leisure Centre, the Hinge or the Junction”.
Andrew Percy added, “I also wanted to ask them about a possible project for the Snaith area to run in the summer when school kids are on holiday. For a couple of years local kids have said they would like to be able to get to Xscape in Castleford during the summer”.
I am very much aware that Andrew Percy and local ward Councillors Cllrs John Barrett and Caroline Fox have had meetings with Stagecoach to see if their Hull-Leeds service could be diverted. Sadly, because of timings, this was not possible. It would therefore be great if there were other opportunities we could look at for running a project in the Snaith area over summer, even if only for a couple of trips.

Representatives and young people from Bubwith, Eastrington and Gilberdyke then gathered for a brain storming meeting in Eastrington, the findings from which will be fed back to the next meeting of the Community Partnership to be on Wednesday 18th April at 10am in Goole College, Boothferry Road, Goole.

Both Andrew Percy and I left the meeting with Martin and Christine from the GoFar feeling very positive, it was reassuring that we are all looking to work together, and with other ERYC Councillors and Parish and Town Councils to address issues of rural transport in our areas”.
Andrew concluded by saying, “Goole GoFar do a great job locally and it was great to meet with them to discuss local services. I wanted to ask them about a possible project for the Snaith area. They have said they will look at the cost of this so that I can pursue it further. It may come to nothing but at least we are looking into it”.

How to save money without cutting front line staff

The following is the speech I gave to the ERYC full Council this week.

Asset alignment (or asset rationalisation) is all about money, lots and lots of it - NOT what it will cost but how much it will save if organisations came together to share buildings and other assets. It’s a way of not just the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) but other public service providers such as Police, Fire, Health, and the Probation service saving significant amounts of money without cutting frontline services – but for it to work requires a major shift of thinking – a shift of thinking we’ve begun to see within the Council with the transformation agenda.

Needless to say that shift of thinking is not so evident with our public sector partners. They must move away from protectionism and look more towards sharing, they must move away from regionalisation and move more towards localisation and we must reach out to and encourage our partners to join us at the table – to come up with innovative ways of saving money through the sharing of resources.

Many will remember I’ve spoken and blogged on this subject in here before – and to be honest I was expecting (or perhaps hoping for) a little more movement. The ERYC Corporate Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee have tried to deal with this, but sadly little progress has been made mainly due to the partner public service organisations not willing to engage.

A great example of asset alignment is being proposed between Goole College and Goole Hospital in a proposed partnership arrangement between Hull College and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which could see the College first open a campus in underused parts of the Goole and District Hospital site, and eventually relocating completely as the site is extended. With both organisations sharing a modern facility and services.

It is important to recognise this is NOT about closing hospital wards, NOT about cutting services and NOT about reducing the courses offered by the College. It is about fully developing underused and under-utilised areas of the hospital to maximise the use of their estate for the best public value. A great example of what a little bit of radical thinking can come up with when it comes to asset alignment.

So why do Public Service providers not make the best use of their buildings and other assets by sharing with others like we will hopefully see in Goole? I would suggest it is for one simple reason – there is not sufficient will or desire amongst the providers to break out of their individual silos.

So where would the savings be through asset alignment? The obvious cash from the sales of some surplus assets, but then the on-going savings in heating, lighting, power, water, insurance, cleaning, catering, telephones - not to mention backroom staff. But what about pooling and maintenance of vehicles and equipment - and the favourite expenditure I.T?

The key to making asset rationalisation work is changing the mind-set. Elected Members make up the Fire Authority, by far the largest part of the Police Authority, and will have an increasing role in the Health Service. Members do have a role in setting the strategic direction of partner organisations. To really make asset rationalisation work I’m absolutely certain members can play more of a pivotal role in setting the strategic direction of the public service providers in this area – and I urge them to do so and make sure the right people come to the table.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A sad day for freedom of speech at the ERYC

Yesterday I could not support the proposals for a new Standards Regime being put forward by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

I certainly feel our present bureaucratic standards system is broken; it wastes time and costs a fortune, this money could be better spent elsewhere. So why replace it with something almost exactly the same?

I support the principles regarding standards in the Government’s Localism Bill, those concerning pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests and accordance with the Nolan report’s 7 ‘Principles of public life’: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. In other words I could support all those recommendations in the Council’s proposed new ‘Code of Conduct’ that dealt with probity and rooting out sleaze, and also those that dealt with interests, expenses, backhanders, cases of whiskey and brown envelopes, and bullying.

There is no mention of disrepute anywhere in those 7 Nolan principles and I could not support the inclusion of ‘bringing our office or authority into disrepute’ into a new Code of Conduct, something that seeks to control and curtail free speech – and gives an opportunity for members of the public, fellow members and council officers to harass elected Councillors – and, be in no doubt this is exactly what it serves to do, I and many others know this from bitter personal experience.

This was our chance to come up with a system that was radical and modern, simple to understand, fair to all and significantly more difficult to abuse then the present system. The Council should have looked at the cost to the taxpayer and devised something that was more efficient and cheaper to run by rooting out vexatious and frivolous complaints at the beginning of the process. One simple way of doing this was to not include ‘bringing our office or authority into disrepute’, the basis of many complaints.

There is no mention of savings to the Council in the report presented yesterday; I assume therefore that there are no savings. So when this new regime is implemented how is it to be paid for - from savings elsewhere?

The other and most serious concern was the startling omission of a ‘right of appeal’ – this could not be, and for me killed the proposal stone dead.

A working group including of members of the present Standards Committee (including Labour and Independent Group leaders) and Cabinet members was set up to look at the existing regime and come up with something different, in my opinion there did not appear to be the radical and creative thinking to come up with something new. I questioned the composition of the working group and if they were not too close to the trees to see the wood? (I had even volunteered to be part of the group)

The questionnaire sent to all my fellow Councillors with the answers already filled in by the working group of elite members - would have done credit to the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union.

I said that I felt it smacked of being overly top down, and it is likely Parish and Town Councils will have the same impression when this is put this forward as an example for them to sign up to. What the ERYC is recommending is that if a Parish or Town Councillor is accused of breaking the ‘Code of Conduct’ they will appear before a panel of ERYC Councillors who will determine their fate – and they will have no right of appeal.

This is exactly why I stated we must have full consultation, the Parish and Town Councillors must buy into this and for them to do so they have to have a sense of ownership – not for them to feel they are being dictated to.

I felt the Code must reflect the 7 Nolan principles of public life - nothing else, anything else is surplus and only included to unfairly restrict Elected Members right to freedom of speech, the right to challenge the Council’s officers and the executive, and to campaign on whatever cause or issue they choose. Unfortunately the new Code serves to do this.

I heard it said only last week from a member of the working group that if member didn’t misbehave they wouldn’t be subject to a complaint to the Standards Committee – unbelievable!

As many readers will know I’ve been subject to some 8 complaints over 4 years and yes one person has been behind most of them. I was bizarrely convicted on just one occasion - my crime ‘bringing my office and my authority into disrepute’ over allowing comments by others to be published on my blog. The overwhelming consensus is that I’d done nothing wrong - except speak out, speak up for, challenge, campaign and work for the people who elected me - Has all this affected how I’m viewed with the electorate? Yes it certainly has - they voted for me in such numbers to top the poll in Howdenshire at the last election.

Needless to say only Cllr Matthew Grove, Cllr Mike Whitehead, Cllr John Whittle and I voted against the adoption of the new Standards Regime as proposed by the working group – a sad day for freedom of speech at County Hall

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Howden School sixth form set to close due to dwindling numbers

Many will recall the poster above which highlighted the tremendous success of Howden School students at 16 last year - needless to say these great results equipped the students to continue their post 16 education at other teaching establishments in the area, with just 8 choosing to stay at the School.

The number of students in the sixth form at Howden Secondary School and Technology College has been low for many years with the majority of post 16 student choosing to continue their education elsewhere, in the current academic year there are just 8 students in Year 12 and 6 Students in Year 13, none of which are actually taught at Howden but instead all are taught at Goole High School by Goole High School teachers.

The post 16 students from Howden have a wide range of excellent teaching establishments in the area from which they choose to attend including: Goole College, Selby College, Bishop Burton College, East Riding College, Hull College, John Leggott College in Scunthorpe and York College. A small number also attend the sixth forms of other East Riding Schools.

With such small numbers, the sixth form at Howden School is financially subsidised by the main school budget. The projections based on existing numbers and trends are very low indeed meaning that the present or future arrangements are not financially viable for the school.

The current arrangements for post 16 students from Howden are not satisfactory and have been criticised by OfSTED when the school was inspected in June 2010.

As a member of the Governing body at Howden School I support the proposal for the School to become an 11 to 16 age range School from September of this year. This is very much a positive proposal and will allow the School to focus on the education of the year 7 to 11 students to improve even further on last years fantastic GCSE results, thereby ensuring they are best placed to take advantage of the excellent choices available to continue their post 16 education in the area. This will also satisfy the OfSTED recommendation.

There is a consultation period up to 27th April 2012 for people to comment, before the ERYC will decide if to formally close the sixth form at Howden.

The point of contact for comments is:

Victoria Smith
School Organisation Officer
East Riding of Yorkshire Council
County Hall
East Riding of Yorkshire
HU17 9BA